The pig’s daughter

Another cartoon for the weekend, this one another Zippy in which Bill Griffith draws on references to 20th-century poetry (on other occasions, art), especially with a pop slant:

Even without the “Beatnik Poetry Day” caption, I would have recognized this as beatnik poetry. But echt-beatnik or Griffith-style faux-beatnik? Some of it sounded familiar enough to be the genuine article, and by now I’ve come to expect Griffith’s pop-culture references to be mostly right on target and not inventions.

I leave it to someone else to work out all the references, homing in instead on the one that clanged loudest in my memory, marrying the pig’s daughter.

The source is Gregory Corso’s “Song” from Gasoline (1958, new ed. 1992), a “folk poem” in nursery-rhyme style:


Oh dear! Oh, me! Oh, my!
I married the pig’s daughter!
I married the pig’s daughter!

Why? Why? Why?

I met her in the evening
in the moon in the sky!
She kissed me in the evening
and wed me in her sty!
Oh dear! Oh, me! Oh, my!
I married the pig’s daughter!
I married the pig’s daughter!

Why? Why? Why?

Because I felt I had oughta!
Because I was the one that taught her
how to love and how to die!
And tomorrow there’ll be no sorrow
no, there’ll be no sorrow
when I take her to the slaughter!
When I take her to the slaughter!

Why? Why? Why?

This has recently been set to music by William Wilson, an “acoustic/folk/indie” (his description) musician based in Italy, and is now available on his 2010 album Just For You, Not For All (settings of poems from various sources); you can listen to it via a link here.

The little point of linguistic interest — yes, there is one — is the rhyming of oughta and taught her with earlier daughter and later slaughter.

For me, oughta is r-less, or “non-rhotic” (as linguists sometimes say when they’re wearing their professor hats), though there are varieties in which it has r-ful variants, while taught her (well, taught ‘er), daughter, and slaughter are normally r-ful. So for me oughta only half-rhymes with the rest, though there are plenty of varieties, including some American ones, where it rhymes perfectly with the rest, all of them r-less. (I’m putting aside variation in the phonetic realizations of intervocalic /t/ in these words and focusing only on the quality of the word-final vowel.)

Not that there’s anything wrong with half-rhymes, especially phonetically very close half-rhymes, especially those that echo the phonetics of other widespread varieties.

(Even in r-less varieties, the final vowels of oughta and daughter aren’t necessarily perfect rhymes phonetically; they might, for instance, differ, at least statistically, in height, backing, or rounding. But these differences are probably below the level of consciousness for hearers in English, for whom the only psychologically pertinent variation is that between phonemic /ə/ and /ər/.)

What Wilson actually sings in oughta is not, however, the ordinary casual-speech /ə/ variant, but, quite clearly, the more careful-speech variant with /u/ (realizing the vowel of the infinitive marker to when it bears some accent), while having general-American /ər/ in the rest. Ok, that’s definitely half-rhyme, and fairly distant, though supported to some degree by other variants than the ones Wilson actually produces.

But what did Corso have in mind? As someone who grew up in the Little Italy section of Manhattan and began his serious poetic life in Boston, Corso was generally, but not invariably, r-less, and (as far as I can tell from the recordings I’ve been able to find) in moving from his younger street-kid persona to his older, rather patrician-sounding public persona (as the youngest of the core Beat poets, he ended up as a kind of spokesman for the group), he became significantly more r-ful.

I haven’t found any recordings on the web of him reading “Song”, but that wouldn’t really settle anything. Even if he sometimes treated ‘er (representing her) differently from the -er of daughter and slaughter, as he might well have, it’s still a fine half-rhyme.

9 Responses to “The pig’s daughter”

  1. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    Bernard Zaritzky anticipated Corso by a few years, and resolved the ambiguity by spelling it “oughter”. Well, except I suppose that could be a non-rhotic “oughter”.

    There’s a little white duck
    Sitting in the water
    A little white duck
    Doing what he oughter
    He took a bite of a lily pad
    Flapped his wings and he said,
    “I’m glad I’m a little white duck
    Sitting in the water”
    Quack! Quack! Quack!

    (though I prefer the frog verse)

  2. mollymooly Says:

    An 80s UK Heineken ad had another accent-dependent rhyme with “ought to”, thus spelt on the prompt-board.

  3. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    It occurs to me that Corso might well have heard “Little White Duck”. It’s copyright 1950, and Burl Ives had a 1956 recording. Quack! Quack! Quack! Why? Why? Why?

  4. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    One other point of interest: “had oughta”. MWDEU spends half a page telling us it’s OK, really. Corso doesn’t really need it for meter (not that he’s being all that consistent anyway).

  5. h.s. gudnason Says:

    From Gilbert & Sullivan’s Grand Duke:

    The Prince of Monte Carlo,
    From Mediterranean water,
    Has come here to bestow
    On you his beautiful daughter.
    They’ve paid off all they owe,
    As every statesman oughter–
    That Prince of Monte Carlo
    And his be-eautiful daughter!

    [(amz) Once again, we don’t know what the spellings are supposed to represent, beyond the suggestion that the final syllables of water/daughter and oughter are pronounced identically. Even that isn’t a sure thing; maybe the spellings are supposed to represent ordinary British r-lessness in the first case but hypercorrect, lower-class r-fulness in the second. I don’t know enough about The Grand Duke to guess at what G&S might have intended or what performance practice might be.]

  6. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    The first time I visited France, untold years ago, I bought a Berlitz-for-travellers at the airport to supplement my one year of seventh-grade French. Having grown up in Minnesota, Chicago and Tokyo, I was totally bewildered by its phonetic rendition of (eg) ‘je ne sais pas’ as ‘zher ner seh pah’. (The phonetic transcriptions are attributed to one Dr T J A Bennett.)

    This was a 1970 edition, printed in Switzerland; I still have it. I assume that in these modern days they print a separate AmE version, though I haven’t checked.

  7. The music of ruin « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […]  Gasoline (incorporating The Vestal Lady of Brattle Street), in which you can find not only “Song” (“I married the pig’s daughter!”) but also the sad “The Last Warmth […]

  8. The Gasoline Prize « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] back, I offered a modest prize — a copy of Gregory Corso’s Gasoline (1958), which has marrying the pig’s daughter in it — to the first person to identify the composer of a piece of Mystery […]

  9. Burlesques, parodies, playful allusions « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] The Pig’s Daughter (link): Zippy: beatnik […]

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